23 February 2018

Social Media for Journalists

Executive Summary

Social media websites like Twitter and Facebook have changed the way journalism works today.

The border between media producers and their traditional audience has blurred, and instead of a hierarchical relationship, the relationship is now more equal, with more communication and interactivity between the two.

But social media is good for more than just this new dialogue. It is also changing both the way that journalists can communicate and the way they do research.

As a journalist, how can I use social media?

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Social media can be very useful when there is breaking news. New information can be found quickly on social media. Twitter is an excellent source - especially when people who are on the site of breaking news post information about what is happening right then and there. Often they are quicker than reporters.

Social media allows a journalist to bring together a variety of sources they trust to provide information on a chosen subject. This allows the journalist to keep up-to-date with their chosen subject and check sources regularly, mostly free of charge.

Social media allows a journalist to quickly and easily ask for information or opinions from a group of friends, acquaintances, or followers online. This is also known as crowdsourcing.

Social media helps journalists publish farther afield than in traditional media, and can also assist them in finding new story ideas.

Today, the media outlets and all major institutions in the water and sanitation sector such as IWA (International Water Association) are intensively using social media for their day-to-day communication and particularly during Conferences such as the annual World Water Week in Stockholm.

The five ‘W’s and one ‘H’

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In the context of social media, with its many different information streams, it can be useful to apply the classic five ‘W’s and one ‘H’ questions that every news story must answer.

WHAT will add value to my story?

WHO has written filmed, recorded, or commented on this topic?

WHERE is the part of my piece that makes the reader sit up and take notice?

WHEN will my audience read this story? And on which device?

WHY should Internet users want to interact with my work; why would they comment on it or want to share my story with others?

HOW do I extract meaningful data from the online flow of information? And how do I verify the sources?

Social media guidelines

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As the use of social media in journalism has become more popular, some basic codes of behavior have become accepted. These include: “Think first, then post,” “Don’t tell any secrets,” and “Be good.”


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  • Be credible.
  • Add value.
  • Be relevant and current.
  • Publish regularly.
  • Be authentic.
  • Answer commentators.
  • Enter into dialogue.
  • Refer to relevant hashtags.
Library References

Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting

When basic questions about journalism come up, this handbook, written and produced by Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT), provides clear, brief and precise answers. Shortcuts to Journalism isn’t just for journalists – it’s also helpful for non-journalists. Download the English version here or the Arabic version here.

Schmidt, E., Tirok, M. and Bösch, M. (2016): Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting. Berlin, Germany: Media in Cooperation and Transition gGmbH PDF

Alternative Versions to